Friday, August 24, 2012

"You didn't build that" and the Gospel

President Obama  made some waves about a month ago with his now infamous "You didn't build that" statement. In case you are unaware of the statement, here it is in extended format.

"If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something--there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in road and bridges. If you've got a business--you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."

Many have taken great offense at this statement. In fact, one small business owner catered an Obama event while wearing a T-shirt that said, "Government didn't build my business, I DID."
Now, there is no doubt that many will take this post as a political exploration. That is not my intention. Let me try to be as clear as I can on the purpose of this post.
I am not terribly interested in the question, "What is the role of the government in the lives of Americans?" I certainly have my own opinions about that issue, but I don't want this post to be about whether or not the President was right in his statement, or whether or not he is right in the policies that follow this line of reasoning.

Here is the question that does interest me: "Why were we so offended by his statement?"

Let me share two reasons why the backlash against the president's statement concerns me:

1. In my own life, I see a lot of truth in his statement. 
I will speak of my own life for those of you who disagree. Let me give an example. I am a pastor and I preach sermons. If I got a lot of good feedback on a particular sermon, and then someone else said, "You didn't create that sermon," I would probably be offended. But then I would realize that they were right. First of all, the whole point of my sermons is not to come up with original thoughts, but to say what God has said. Beyond this, each of my sermons is influenced by professors like Will Varner and Tom Halstead and Paul Felix and Al Bayliss and Paul Metzger. They also draw heavily on authors like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, F.F. Bruce, Edmund Clowney, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Piper, Tim Keller, and Randy Alcorn. And I never would have been exposed to any of these people if it weren't for my parents and my youth pastor and my friends, not to mention college and seminary presidents and book publishers.
My point is that I would be exercising short-sighted pride if I were to act as if any of my success in life was due only to my individual choices. Life doesn't work that way. Our actions impact one another in negative and positive ways. We are indebted to many, and this should bring humility.
It might not be correct for someone to say of my accomplishments, "You didn't do that." But it certainly would be correct to say, "You didn't do that alone."
Again, I am not saying that this justified big government, but it does justify humility.

2. The Gospel of Jesus says, "You didn't do that."
This is the more important point to me. For those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we must be careful anytime we start to say, "I did that!" When we get into the habit of using this phrase about our accomplishments and successes, we are in danger of undercutting the gospel of Jesus.
In Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Moses warns the people of Israel: You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
The people are warned not to think that their success is due to their own strength and wisdom and diligence. It is all due to God.
Pause for a moment and answer this question. What is it called when we proudly proclaim, "I did that." It is called boasting. "I scored that goal," "I built that building," "I made that money." All of these are boasts. Consider what the Bible says about boasting.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.
Our boast must not be anything that we think comes from ourselves. Our boast is how great God is. Speaking of boasting, look at what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:27-28: Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. We are excluded from boasting because the whole message about Jesus is not that we did some great thing by embracing him, but that he did a great work by bringing salvation for us.
Perhaps most powerful are Paul's words in Galatians 6:14: May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Once again, don't focus on what this means about what government should or should not do. Focus on the attitude of the heart that calls out, "You didn't do this, I DID THIS!" Whether it is about starting a business or preaching a sermon or parenting your children or staying sober, we make a mistake when we place importance on getting recognition. When we find ourselves needing that credit and affirmation, an idol has crept into our hearts.
And the most frightening prospect is that this deception would cause us to believe that we deserve some credit for being Christians. True Christianity can bring nothing but humility. Embracing Jesus is an open admission that we are wrong an sinful and and lost and needy. We throw ourselves at the mercy of God and ask him to save us. And he does. HE saves us. The Christian message is not, "You can do it"; the Christian message is, "God has done it!"
As individualistic Americans we have a hard time accepting the idea that we are nothing more than recipients when it comes to our salvation. We get no credit for it and we find no boasting in it. We boast only in the one who did it for us.
Let's not forget that this is the core of our message and the core of our lives.

Let's be slow to take offense whenever anyone says to us, "You didn't do that."

1 comment:

  1. Hey Dan,
    Interesting thoughts man. I've often been struck by the irony in refering primarily to the poor when we speak of living in an "entitlement culture." We talk about those who may feel entitled to something they did not earn, but this often comes from those who feel entitled to what they think they've earned.